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Mineral exploration services get a boost

Junior secures option agreement with mid-tier gold producer; throws spotlight on innovations designed for early-stage field work

As mineral exploration activity around the globe continues to reel from the body blows delivered by a multi-year capital drought, a trio of innovators in Yukon Territory is giving new meaning to the adage, "One man's meat is another man's poison."

GroundTruth Exploration Ltd., led by Shawn Ryan's protégé, Isaac Fage, is making significant strides in marketing to mining companies a low-cost exploration system that is dependent on several proprietary technologies.

During the 2014 field season, Dawson, YT-based Groundtruth offered its services to several junior mining exploration companies working on mineral projects in Yukon. Pacific Ridge Exploration Ltd. is one of these explorers.

The junior followed up on earlier exploration at the 372-claim King Solomon project, which covers 7,500 hectares (18,533 acres) and hosts one of the largest and strongest gold-in-soil anomalies in the historic Klondike Gold District that has not yet been trenched or drilled.

Pacific Ridge holds King Solomon under option from Yukon prospector Shawn Ryan and Wildwood Exploration Inc. as well as 40 adjacent claims held under option from 39242 Yukon Inc. The main target of interest is the King Zone, a 1,600 meters long gold-in-soil geochemical anomaly that lies near the summit of King Solomon Dome. Within this anomaly, gold values range to a maximum of 1,377 parts per billion, or 1.38 grams-per-metric-ton gold, above an anomaly threshold value of 30 ppb gold. The Prince Zone, measuring 600 meters by 800 meters, is located just west of the main target zone.

In 2013, Pacific Ridge conducted a surface exploration program that included the collection of 481 soil samples, followed by high-resolution induced polarization-resistivity surveys and close-spaced GeoProbe® regolith sampling over key soil and geophysical anomalies.

The high-resolution IP survey defined a number of linear structural zones that correlate with the gold-in-soil geochemical anomalies. The regolith sampling, which used the GeoProbe® track-mounted mechanical sampler, penetrated to depths of up to three meters, and sampled rock fragments just above bedrock. Analytical results obtained by the GeoProbe® sampling program include values in the range of 0.1-2.8 g/t gold within the King zone and 2.1-74.5 g/t silver within the King zone SE.

Attracting an exploration partner

In mid-September Pacific Ridge reported success in attracting an exploration partner for the King Solomon gold project. The junior entered into an agreement to option an interest in the King Solomon project to mid-tier gold producer Centerra Gold Inc. Centerra can earn a 70 percent interest in King Solomon by paying a total of C$665,000 to Pacific Ridge and/or the underlying property vendors, and completing a minimum of C$4.5 million in exploration work on the project, in each case by Dec. 31, 2017.

Centerra has indicated that its exploration plans for King Solomon will initially include geological mapping, additional soil sampling, ground geophysical surveying and a RAB (rotary air blast) drilling program.

Much of this work likely will be performed by Groundtruth, which has spent the past year improving its package of exploration services. In addition to the GeoProbe®, recently renamed the GTProbe® for copyright reasons, the services include The Drone, an aerial system for creating digital elevation photographs that Tao Henderson and Ryan jointly developed, hand-soil sampling, resistivity induced polarization surveys and the bedrock-penetrating RAB drill.

Fine-tuning services

Thanks to ongoing performance testing and technical refinements, the various components of Groundtruth's exploration package are performing better than ever, Groundtruth President Isaac Fage told Mining News in a recent interview.

The GTProbe®'s designer, Tao Henderson drew on his extensive experience as a remote-controlled aircraft enthusiast to develop a RC wireless communication system for the GTProbe® to eliminate the need for an operator to sit on the unit, and he designed full hydraulics for the system.

"Knowing the ins and outs of RC wireless helped," he told Mining News in 2013 when the device made its field debut.

It took about six months to design the GTProbe® on the computer and to assemble all of its parts.

"The GTProbe® has more power, a larger engine and it can collect double the number of samples it could last season. Plus, we upgrade it from collecting two-inch (diameter) samples down to nine feet to taking three-inch samples down six feet. It also has a bigger, 27-horsepower engine and increased speed," he explained.

As a result, the GTProbe® can collect an average of 40-45 samples covering 200-300 meters per day, though Groundtruth has set 60 samples as a new daily goal and gotten as much as 57 samples in one day, so far, Fage said.

Henderson has redesigned the body of the machine to make it smaller and lighter and to give it a lower profile.

"It's still able to work on 45-degree slopes and we shaved 400 pounds off of its weight. Without tooling, the machine now weighs 2,000 lbs.," Henderson said.

Groundtruth also conducted a winter sampling program with the GTProbe® and found that it was just as fast in the winter as it is in the summer.

With the RAB drill, the company focused on hitting it target of drilling four 15-meter holes or two 30-meter holes in a day.

"We start with a small compressor and then bring in a bigger compressor and drill farther out," Fage said.

Ryan said the intensive testing is aimed as refining the package of services, from drone mapping to RAB drilling, to cost-effectively compete with a conventional exploration program.

"Helicopter costs are about 30 percent of a season's exploration budget," Ryan said. "We're trying to get that down to 15-20 percent.

Mounted on tracks, both the GTProbe and the RAB drill can move easily through rough terrain and dense overburden. This maneuverability gives it another advantage over larger equipment that must be moved by helicopter.

Each of Groundtruth's innovative services can be marketed separately, especially the Drone. For example, the remote aerial system was dispatched this summer to Mayo, YT to count spawning salmon. In all, the device, along with its all-important remote-sensing software, has flown 400 missions for Groundtruth, Fage said.

But the company's goal is to market its services for grassroots and early-stage exploration together.

"The IP works, but it works better with the GTProbe® and the GTProbe® works, but it works better with the RAB drill," said Ryan.

"This is the setup before the diamond drill. If someone needs an answer, we can get it for them in two weeks, and all of it can be done for less than C$100,000 and under the radar of permitting," said Fage.

A full season of Groundtruth's mineral exploration services cost C$500,000 to C$700,000.

The company is now training more personnel in preparation for the 2015 exploration season.

"Centerra has bought the full package," Ryan said.

Also, "the majors are interested, and I'm anticipating being able to send a crew to Africa or Turkey," Ryan said. "That's why we've been heavily debugging it. We're also trying to develop training manuals."


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